So here’s the deal. My wife Vicki has used an HP Pavilion laptop for the past six years. The laptop has some issues with it, but she still uses it for everything from genealogy to photograph storage, and occasional netsurfing. The laptop was state-of-the-art in 2003, but now it’s a dinosaur. The hard drive is tiny (30 gigs), the memory is puny (512 MB total), and when I went to use her laptop, the keyboard was almost molten hot – because the battery was defective.
And thus begins a new project. Yeah, I could run out and spend $500-$700 on a new laptop, and then have to spend another $500 on software – or, I could see whether her current laptop can be upgraded to continue to function properly for another few years.
I think it can be upgraded. And I’m going to address all three of the laptop’s problem issues – the memory, the hard drive and the battery.
The first thing I wanted to fix on Vicki’s laptop was its memory. The machine had two 256mb DDR SDRAM SO-DIMM chips on it (sorry, I know we’re going into computergeekspeak), so I went on HP’s website and discovered that the laptop’s memory can handle a maximum of one gig – or, in computergeekspeak, two 512mb DDR SDRAM SO-DIMM chips.
Great. I can at least boost the memory to twice its original store-bought power. That’s a step in the right direction.
So off to find the necessary chips.
I stress “find.” Because it wasn’t easy.
When it comes to computer memory, you can’t just slap in any old chip and suddenly you’re recreating Flowers for Algernon. If you go over the recommended maximum computer memory requirement without knowing what you’re doing, you can do some nasty damage to your laptop.
I was, however, able to find the chips, after much detective work. You need two 512mb DDR SDRAM chips to create the 1gb of memory, and since those chips aren’t manufactured any more, you can’t find them at Best Buy or Radio Shack – instead, you have to go to the local cadre of Capital District computer repair shops.
I first went to Computer Renaissance on New Loudon Road in Latham, where they had one of the chips. On the way home, I stopped at another place, Computer Answers on Central Avenue in Albany, where the guy on duty sold me another 512mb memory chip. Total cost for the two chips – approximately $85 with tax.
While Vicki was out visiting with her friends, I stayed home and prepared for the operation. Not being 100% proficient when monkeying around with computers, I wanted to take every precaution necessary – short of putting on surgical gloves and a mask.
I disconnected all power to the computer and removed its battery, essentially giving it a general anesthetic.
A surgical incision with a Phillips screwdriver, and the laptop’s small baseplate was removed, exposing the computer’s original 256mb memory chips. Each chip was held in place by two spring-loaded clips. I carefully slid open the clips. The memory chips came loose. I extracted them, harkening back to my days of surgical training where I removed the wrenched ankle, the funny bone and the butterflies in the stomach from ol’ Cavity Sam.
I placed each vintage chip aside. I unwrapped the 512mb chips from their protective plasticine sheaths, and transplanted them into the patient. I replaced the backplate. Plugged the unit in. Crossed my fingers that the memory I bought was in decent order, that it hadn’t shorted out due to an unknown static shock, and that the computer wasn’t suddenly going to spout out pink smoke and die.
The laptop booted up. The ubiquitous Windows XP logo glowed.
Then came the welcome screen. Quickly, in fact.
The installation was a success. The machine now had a more powerful memory. Step one of my three-step process for upgrading Vicki’s computer is now complete. Next up – finding an IDE hard drive and a replacement battery.